Foreign language survival guide

Posted Date: 03 November 2015
Foreign language survival tips

Visiting a country where you don’t speak the local language can sometimes be daunting – but it doesn’t have to be. Embrace the chance to learn some new lingo on your trip. And remember that you don’t need to be a fluent speaker – people will be able to understand not just your words but also hand gestures, expressions and good manners.

So don’t get lost in translation, follow these simple tips to help you survive when you don’t speak the native tongue.

Foreign language survival guide infographic created by: Southern Cross Travel Insurance

Foreign language survival guide

Get a translation app

Apps like Google Translate can translate inputed text and even images! Just hover the camera over text that’s written in a foreign language and voilà! It’s great for signs and menus.

Use a picture book

Buy, download or make your own picture book. Then you can simply point at pictures that refer to the basics you may need. A picture of an apple is the same in any language.

Mind your manners

Learning how to say simple phrases like hello, please, thank you and I’m sorry, can go a long way. Locals who see you making an effort to communicate with them and embrace their culture are likely to be more helpful. You might even make some new friends.

Keep your cool

Don’t let frustration get the better of you. Rome wasn’t built in a day and learning to communicate in a new language takes time. Remember, repeating yourself in a raised voice won’t make it any easier to understand. Keep calm and use your imagination.

Map out your trip

Download maps for the public transport and tourist spots before you leave. That way you can easily navigate your way around a new city if you get lost. Google also allows you to save maps to your device so you can access them offline.

Use your hands

Put your charades skills to the test with simple and polite hand gestures, but make sure you do your research and avoid accidentally offending any locals. A thumbs up may have a different meaning on the other side of the world.

Friendly but formal

You wouldn’t speak to your granny in the same way you would speak to your friends, would you? Avoid offending people you meet by knowing what cultural formalities are in place. If in doubt, keep it formal.

Learn as you go

You’re bound to pick up some new words and phrases as you’re travelling around. Remember them as you go and practise using them in similar situations. Knowing even some basic nouns and verbs can help you out more than you’d expect. Free apps like Duolingo are a great way to learn a new language and you can start brushing up on your pronunciation before you go.


Be prepared to be laughed at. We all make mistakes, just go with it, have fun and laugh along!

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